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The Next Big Thing: Self-Published Teen Authors

YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

Taking Chances, written and published by Molly McAdam

I was sitting around a table with about 12 teenagers at my library. We were going around and telling each other what books we were reading or had just finished reading — when, to my utter astonishment, two girls started talking about YA books that I hadn’t heard of. What?! This can’t be! Seriously, I go to the YA section in bookstores and libraries (even in other countries — see photo below) and scan the shelves … then I think to myself, “Yep. Yep. Seen it. Bought it. Own it. Read it.” This is because I am lucky to work for a medium-size library with a generous budget for teen materials. I spend around $500 a month selecting and buying all the latest and greatest! So, what, pray tell, were these girls talking about?

They were talking about self-published ebooks they discovered online. Yep, it’s happening already. Then one of them proudly declared, “I’m writing a book.” And her friend nodded vigorously and said, “Yes she is, and it’s really good.”

The next big thing? Books written and published by young adults. More books will gain popularity and readership through self-publishing, and more and more of them will be written by teens.

I took this photo of a YA section in a bookstore … WHILE I WAS IN SWEDEN.

Think about garage bands: If teens have access to instruments and amplifiers and a place to practice, they are going to make music. They are going to form bands and play at parties and other teens will go listen to them. It’s pretty likely that they will throw their tunes online as well so that people can download them, either for free or for a small fee. If teens have the ability to easily publish books (which they do), they will start to produce them and pass them on to their friends. Their friends will read them and then recommend them to others and so on. These will, of course, also be online. They will likely design covers and even pay a nominal fee to have these books printed and bound. For instance, Sacramento Public Library’s I Street Press will print your books for $10 each after a $25 set-up fee.

Easy, written by Tammara Webber, published by Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

Don’t believe me? It’s kind of already happening. Try this: Go to Amazon and look at the list of children’s ebook best sellers. Half are big name books by well-known authors, and half are some incarnation of self-published material. These aren’t just books floating around out there. I repeat, these are the best sellers. Many have several hundred positive reviews and have been downloaded thousands upon thousands of times. I don’t know for sure, but I would be willing to bet that many of these books are outselling and outperforming many books being published by established houses. And it’s not surprising, given the format and method of distribution, that many of the most popular ebooks on this list are written by young authors. One could even assert that most of these authors are young adults! Bestselling Amazon author Tammara Webber wrote the first half of her first novel when she was 19. (Check out our recent post on young adults writing for young adultsfor more.)

The success of these books is inspiring to young writers, and why shouldn’t it be? Several popular ebook author bios state something to the effect of, “I love to write, so I wrote this book.” A few go on to enjoy reaping the benefits of a huge bidding war between major publishers (a la Amanda Hocking’s Trylle trilogy). If you’re not convinced, I’ll suggest one final element that adds to the likelihood that teen ebook publishing will take hold: the fact that teachers and parents haven’t heard of the books. No one suggests that teens read them except for the Internet or their friends … just like that band they saw play last Friday night.

— Amy Pelman, currently reading My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick and listening to Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

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  1. CC CC

    Thanks for the shout-out! At Sacramento, we have actually already had a couple of teens self-publish their books through I Street, one entirely funded by a grant from a branch Friends group, and the books have been added to our Local Author collection at the Central branch. We hope to see more of them taking on the challenge of writing a complete novel. It’s a thrill for them to see their names on the library shelves!

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